Activists Identify Most Endangered U.S. Forests
By J.R. Pegg
WASHINGTON, DC, June 5, 2003 (ENS) - Americans concerned about global deforestation need look no further than their own backyards for endangered forests, environmentalists say. A new report released this week by forest activists documents U.S. forests at continued risk from mismanagement and commercial logging, and takes aim at Bush administration's policies that they believe are further endangering the national forests.
"The United States is treating our national forests the way Third World countries do," Greenpeace Executive Director John Passacantando told reporters at a press conference Tuesday. "This fight is not just about saving trees."
"We are fighting for the principle that some places in this country are so special that they belong to all Americans," Passacantando said.
The report "Endangered Forests, Endangered Freedoms" was developed and released by the National Forest Protection Alliance (NFPA), a coalition of 120 grassroots conservation groups - including Greenpeace. It identifies the 10 forests most at risk and calls for an end to logging within U.S. National Forests.
NFPA used a range of criteria to determine the forests that are most endangered, including water quality, road construction, the presence of endangered and threatened species, timber sale volume and economics, as well as the percentage of remaining old growth and roadless areas.
Commercial logging is the biggest threat to the national forests, said Jake Kreilick, project manager with the National Forest Protection Alliance, and is a waste of taxpayer's money.
Kreilick says the federal timber program costs some $1.3 billion a year and its continuance reflects a misguided view of the value of the nation's forests. The Forest Service, which oversees the National Forest system and is under the control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has mismanaged the forests since its inception in 1905, says Edward Wilson, a Harvard University professor of biology.
"Scientists have reached a deeper understanding of the value of the National Forest System that needs to be kept front and center," said Wilson, considered by many to be one of the world's leading biological theorists. "Our national forests represent a public trust too valuable to be managed as tree farms for the production of pulp, paper and lumber."
Wilson, speaking at Tuesday's press conference, said the nation's biodiversity is at risk from the mismanagement and logging within the national forests. It is biodiversity that is worth protecting, he said, not the federal timber program.
"There is far greater biodiversity in the world than scientists once thought," Wilson explained. "But as it is being discovered, we are finding it is eroding through extinction at an alarming rate."
At least one third of America's native species are endangered or threatened, Wilson said, and one percent is already lost forever. Commercial logging has disrupted the biological diversity that "creates healthy ecosystems," Wilson said, and the nation's mismanagement of its natural resources has "increased the extinction rate a thousand times."
"Tree farms are not national forests," Wilson said. "The national forests are a public trust of immeasurable value and should only be cut when ecologically necessary."
NFPA's Kreilick says that there is a geographic shift worth tracking - logging increasing in Eastern national forests.
And he argues that it is becoming harder to track timber sales as the Bush administration is advancing policies "under the guise of forest health management" to increase logging.
The report details how the Bush administration has used the fear of wildfire to limit public comment and relax environmental oversight in order to give the timber industry access to valuable trees, often deep in the remaining pristine areas of national forests.
One of the report's concerns - that the administration was intent on rolling back the Clinton administration's rule that banned new roads in some 58 million federal acres - appears to have been relieved Wednesday, when U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth announced the administration would not renewed its temporary rule that had lifted the ban. Many environmentalists and some in Congress want this rule to be made law to provide permanent protection for these areas.
And much of NFPA's criticism is directed the administration's Healthy Forests initiative, which the President unveiled in the wake of one of the worst wildfire years in the past half century. Some seven million acres burned last year, more than twice the annual 10 year average.
To reduce this threat, the administration has put in place a forest stewardship program, which permits the Forest Service to allow private contractors hired to thin national forests to take whatever timber they want from the treated area.
Forest Service officials have touted the program as an effective way to get the private sector involved in forest thinning, but there are no limits to what kind or size of trees that can be removed and sold.
Kreilick says it is a thinly veiled disguise for increased logging and will do little to reduce the threat of wildfire to the communities most at risk.
The administration says these moves are necessary to remove the red tape and bureaucratic wrangling that prevents effective forest management, but environmentalists are not convinced.
"The Bush administration believes that logging is the cure for all our national forest ills," Kreilick said. "These stealth attacks are unprecedented in scope and the administration is leading a return to a time when industrial excavation of natural resources ruled the day."
Wilson says economic interest should be prompting the nation to further conserve the national forests, rather than look to sustain logging within them. He cited Forest Service data that found that the recreational opportunities within national forests contribute some 31 times more to the nation's economy than logging and 38 times more jobs.
"Our national forests are a public trust of immeasurable value," Wilson said. "The time has come to free them from commercial interests."
NFPA and Greenpeace threw their support behind a Congressional bill, the National Forest Protection and Restoration Act, that has been put forth as an alternative to the Bush administration's policies. The bill, authored by Idaho Representative Jim Leach - a Democrat, would end taxpayer subsidies for logging in national forests and proposes wildfire reduction measures supported by environmental groups.
To access the report, see www.greenpeaceusa.org